The Digital Technology Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide in 2021


Do you have a phone? A computer? How about a TV? These are all examples of different types of digital technology! In earning your Digital Technology merit badge, you’ll learn a ton about how your electronic devices work, what they’re capable of, as well as how to use them even more effectively!

Nowadays, our entire culture relies on digital technology to keep things running. That’s why it’s so important that you understand how these technologies work! By the end of this guide, my goal is to give you a solid understanding of digital technology so that you can avoid common dangers and use it to its fullest potential! 🙂

If you have Eagle-required merit badges to earn, you also should check out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I’m certain this resource will be helpful to scouts on their road to Eagle!

Also, remember that ScoutSmarts should just serve as your starting point for merit badge research. In school, we’re taught not to plagiarize, and the same is true for Scouting worksheets. Answer these questions in your own words, do further research, check out the included links, and I promise you’ll gain much more from every merit badge you earn!

By learning how digital technology works, you’ll be in a position to help create the technologies of the future! Do you want flying cars, virtual reality, or better eco-friendly energy? I do! Earning the Digital Technology merit badge will teach you the foundations of this exciting field, and maybe even point you toward a future career path!

First, closely read through each of the requirements below so you know what you’ll be learning, as well as what you’ll need to do. Thoroughly understanding your instructions, beforehand, is an important key to succeeding on your first try! After you know exactly what you’re expected to complete for each requirement, follow along closely.

Now, it’s time to dive into the Digital Technology merit badge!

What Are The Digital Technology Merit Badge Requirements?

  1. Show your counselor your current, up-to-date Cyber Chip.
  2. Do the following:
    2a. Give a brief history of the changes in digital technology over time. Discuss with your counselor how digital technology in your lifetime compares with that of your parents’, grandparents’, or other adults’ lifetime.
    2b. Describe the kinds of computers or devices you imagine might be available when you are an adult.
  3. Do the following:
    3a. Explain to your counselor how text, sound, pictures, and videos are digitized for storage.
    3b. Describe the difference between lossy and lossless data compression, and give an example where each might be used.
    3c. Describe two digital devices and how they are made more useful by their programming.
    3d. Discuss the similarities and differences between computers, mobile devices, and gaming consoles.
    3e. Explain what a computer network is and describe the network’s purpose.
  4. Do the following:
    4a. Explain what a program or software application or “app” is and how it is created.
    4b. Name four software programs or mobile apps you or your family use, and explain how each one helps you.
    4c. Describe what malware is, and explain how to protect your digital devices and the information stored on them.
  5. Do the following:
    5a. Describe how digital devices are connected to the Internet.
    5b. Using an Internet search engine (with your parent’s permission), find ideas about how to conduct a troop court of honor or campfire program. Print out a copy of the ideas from at least three different websites. Share what you found with your counselor, and explain how you used the search engine to find this information.
    5c. Use a Web browser to connect to an HTTPS (secure) website (with your parent’s permission). Explain to your counselor how to tell whether the site’s security certificate can be trusted, and what it means to use this kind of connection.
  6. Do THREE of the following. For each project you complete, copy the files to a backup device and share the finished projects with your counselor:
    6a. Using a spreadsheet or database program, develop a food budget for a patrol weekend campout OR create a troop roster that includes the name, rank, patrol, and telephone number of each Scout. Show your counselor that you can sort the roster by each of the following categories: rank, patrol, and alphabetically by name.
    6b. Using a word processor, write a draft letter to the parents of your troop’s Scouts, inviting them to a troop event.
    6c. Using a graphics program, design and draw a campsite plan for your troop OR create a flier for an upcoming troop event, incorporating text and some type of visual such as a photograph or an illustration.
    6d. Using a presentation software program, develop a report about a topic approved by your counselor. For your presentation, create at least five slides, with each one incorporating text and some type of visual such as a photograph or an illustration.
    6e. Using a digital device, take a picture of a troop activity. Send or transfer this image to a device where the picture can be shared with your counselor.
    6f. Make a digital recording of your voice, transfer the file to a different device, and have your counselor play back the recording.
    6g. Create a blog and use it as an online journal of your Scouting activities, including group discussions and meetings, campouts, and other events. Include at least five entries and two photographs or illustrations. Share your blog with your counselor. You need not post the blog to the Internet; however, if you choose to go live with your blog, you must first share it with your parents AND counselor AND get their approval.
    6h. Create a Web page for your troop, patrol, school, or place of worship. Include at least three articles and two photographs or illustrations. Include at least one link to a website of interest to your audience. You need not post the page to the Internet; however, if you decide to do so, you must first share the Web page with your parents AND counselor AND get their approval.
  7. Do the following:
    7a. Explain to your counselor each of these protections and why they exist: copyright, patents, trademarks, trade secrets.
    7b. Explain when it is permissible to accept a free copy of a program from a friend.
    7c. Discuss with your counselor an article or a news report about a recent legal case involving an intellectual property dispute.
  8. Do TWO of the following:
    8a. Describe why it is important to properly dispose of digital technology. List at least three dangerous chemicals that could be used to create digital devices or used inside a digital device.
    8b. Explain to your counselor what is required to become a certified recycler of digital technology hardware or devices.
    8c. Do an Internet search for an organization that collects discarded digital technology hardware or devices for repurposing or recycling. Find out what happens to that waste. Share with your counselor what you found.
    8d. Visit a recycling center that disposes of digital technology hardware or devices. Find out what happens to that waste. Share what you learned with your counselor.
    8e. Find a battery recycling center near you and find out what it does to recycle batteries. Share what you have learned with your counselor about the proper methods for recycling batteries.
  9. Do ONE of the following:
    9a. Investigate three career opportunities that involve digital technology. Pick one and find out the education, training, and experience required for this profession. Discuss this with your counselor, and explain why this profession might interest you.
    9b. Visit a business or an industrial facility that uses digital technology. Describe four ways digital technology is being used there. Share what you learned with your counselor.

Digital Technology Merit Badge Requirement 1:

1) Show your counselor your current, up-to-date Cyber Chip.

The first step to earning your Digital Technology merit badge is making sure your Cyber Chip is completed and up to date. After all, to complete this badge (particularly requirements 5 and 6) you’ll need to utilize your technological devices and the internet! Earning your Cyber Chip will teach you how to avoid common dangers in the online world.

If you haven’t yet earned your Cyber Chip (or just want a great refresher) check out my Ultimate Guide To Earning Your Cyber Chip! In it, I’ll help to explain each of your Cyber Chip requirements in a simple, understandable way.

Digital Technology Merit Badge Requirement 2:

2a) Give a brief history of the changes in digital technology over time. Discuss with your counselor how digital technology in your lifetime compares with that of your parents’, grandparents’, or other adults’ lifetime.

In the last few decades, digital technology has grown exponentially, leading to countless new devices and innovations. For example, my parents didn’t have cell phones when they were growing up — or even the internet! In fact, if they wanted to navigate somewhere in their cars, they’d need to bring along paper maps. Talk about a blast from the past! 😛

This development in technological understanding has even changed the forms in which we can view the world. Take, for example, looking at an image:

Our grandparents had paintings -> Our parents had videos -> and now we have virtual reality!

This is just one of many examples of how technology has shaped the world around us! I’d highly recommend asking your parents for their opinions on how digital technology has developed through their lives. To get a better idea of how different types of technology have advanced, check out the handy chart I made below:

Technology1990‘s2000‘s2010‘s2020‘s
VideosTapesDVDsDigitalStreaming Services & Apps
InternetNoneDial-up & BroadbandBroadbandBroadband & Wi-Fi
MusicTapesCDsDigitalStreaming Services & Apps
Cell PhonesNoneCell PhonesCell Phones & SmartphonesSmartphones

Education is another great example of how technology has lead to unprecedented changes. Today, many schools use e-learning in addition to in-person education. Students might even receive laptops or tablets to do their homework and classwork on!

We have tablets and laptops -> Our parents had projectors and calculators -> Our grandparents had an abacus and pencils.

Your parents may have had some technology in their school, like desktop computers, calculators, and projectors, but it’s unlikely that they had anything close to what we have today. Your grandparents had even less! In school, my grandparents used an abacus to do math, because calculators only entered the classroom in the 1970s!

2b) Describe the kinds of computers or devices you imagine might be available when you are an adult.

I thought about adding a video on emerging technologies to this section but decided against it. This requirement is where you should let your imagination run wild! When I was younger, I thought we’d have hoverboards, robot servants, and glasses that could help you see through walls (in a way, I was kinda right 😉 ) What do you think will happen?

I know it can be hard to imagine how computers might change, so I thought I’d give you a bit of inspiration! Feel free to use these points to build off of your original vision. Below are 3 of the biggest trends in computer technology that we’ll likely see more of in the future:

  • Connected: Currently, devices can share information and connect via platforms like Google Drive or through Wi-Fi. In the future though, your devices might be able to automatically connect and sync with your existing preferences so that you don’t need to do any setup work!
  • Artificial Intelligence: AI has made significant progress in the last few years but, so far, even the smartest devices have yet to solve ongoing problems baffling humans. AI can’t even yet “think” outside of their programming. Years from now, we may have true smart devices that humanity can rely on to solve our most complex problems.
  • Brain Interfaces: Technology that “reads” the thoughts of users via electrodes is currently still in the research and testing phases. In a decade or two though, this technology might be so advanced that you can type a paper just by thinking!

Digital Technology Merit Badge Requirement 3:

3a) Explain to your counselor how text, sound, pictures, and videos are digitized for storage.

When you stop to think about it, it’s really incredible how a device like your cellphone can capture an image of reality, turn it into a bunch of data, and store it forever. That just blows my mind! In this section, I’ll be telling you exactly how the data digitization and storage process works! 🙂

First though, I’d suggest we take a few minutes to learn about how data storage actually works. The following TED video (5:05) does a fantastic job of explaining how computer memory works, as well as its current drawbacks:

Now that you’ve watched the video, this next section should make a lot more sense! Text, pictures, videos, and sound are all stored digitally in different ways. What are those ways? It’s time to read the next section and find out!

How is Text Digitized for Storage?

Digital text is stored using ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange), which is a code that translates numbers, letters, and special characters to numbers between 0 and 255. These numbers are translated to binary by computers, which is another code made up of a sequence of 0s and 1s. 

How Is Sound Digitized for Storage?

Sound becomes digitized and stored via a process called sampling. During the sampling process, analog sound (regular sound waves) is converted into a stream of digital data by taking snapshots, also called samples, of the waveforms. Those snapshots/ samples are stored in specially formatted files. Basically, this turns sound waves into a collection of notes!

How Are Pictures Digitized for Storage?

Pictures are stored as pixels, which essentially look like a series of small dots. You can see these when you zoom in really close to a picture online and it becomes broken up into squares, a process called pixelization. Each pixel holds information and data, measured in bits (unit of computer memory). Color pictures take more bits, and therefore also take up more memory.

How Are Videos Digitized for Storage?

Videos are digitized through a combination of how sound and pictures are digitized. Generally, a video file is collected as separate parts: sequential pictures, and synchronized sound. Both of those files are given time stamps so that they can overlap to form a coherent video, and then are stored in container files. 

3b) Describe the difference between lossy and lossless data compression, and give an example where each might be used.

Lossy Data Compression

Lossy data compression is a compression process where data is removed from a file or image, making it smaller, while still maintaining most of the characteristics of the original file (as far as the average user can tell). I use this method of data compression when uploading pictures, which helps your pages here at ScoutSmarts to load even faster! 🙂

Lossy Data Compression Example: An example of where this process may be useful is when dealing with audio files, such as songs. An uncompressed WAV file and a compressed MP3 file may sound the same, but the MP3 file takes up significantly less memory and is much smaller.

Lossless Data Compression

Lossless data compression is a compression process that also makes files smaller, but also completely preserves their appearance, sound quality, and/or other characteristics of the original file. However, the size of compressed lossless files tend to be much larger than lossy files.

Lossless Data Compression Example: An example of where this process may be useful is when dealing with high-quality pictures. Depending on the picture, even a small amount of data loss may alter the image. A PNG may take up too much memory, but a compressed JPEG takes up a lot less space without losing the quality of the image.

3c) Describe two digital devices and how they are made more useful by their programming.

Two digital devices that are made more useful by their programming are smartphones and digital cameras. Both your digital camera and smartphone (Android or iPhone) use different levels of advanced software programming to make sure we have a great experience when using each device!

How Smartphones Are Made Useful by Their Programing

  • Smartphones: Smartphones use software (programming language, applications) to understand the hardware (CPU, drive, modem, motherboard, etc) and translate how we interact with it.
    • Because of its programming, when we press the power button, the phone will either turn on or off. That’s because when we make a change to the hardware (pushing the button) the software is programmed to power the phone on!
    • This same software also converts files into video and/or sound. This allows us to watch videos and listen to songs using the phone’s speaker or our headphones.

How Digital Cameras Are Made Useful by Their Programing

  • Digital Cameras: Similarly, digital cameras have software programming in them that translate our input via the hardware and respond appropriately.
    • When we press a certain button, the lens opens or the shutter adjusts. In the same way, by pressing a physical button on the camera (hardware), the software makes the camera complete different functions!
    • The programming of a digital camera also allows us to interact with specific settings and features (the software), such as saving or deleting specific images.  
3d) Discuss the similarities and differences between computers, mobile devices, and gaming consoles

Similarities Between Computers, Mobile Devices, And Gaming Consoles

Computers, mobile devices, and gaming consoles are similar because they all have a CPU (central processing unit). The CPU controls how the program acts through its operating system and applications, sort of in the same way that your brain controls how your body moves!

Computers, mobile devices, and gaming consoles also have input (An input device is something like a mouse, touch screen, or controller, and gives the device info) and output devices (This is a monitor, display screen, or TV) that allow users to perform similar actions, such as playing games, accessing the Internet, listening to music, and more.

Differences Between Computers, Mobile Devices, And Gaming Consoles

The main difference between computers, mobile devices, and gaming consoles is the degree to which they can perform the actions mentioned above such as gaming or accessing the internet. Some devices make things easier to do than others, which is why people often buy different devices! Computers, mobile devices, and gaming consoles each specialize in one main area of entertainment.

For example, many gaming consoles can access the Internet but are not designed for long-term browsing. However, mobile devices make it easy to navigate the Internet because of their touch screens, keyboards, and easy swiping motions. Computers are even better for internet use, and also help the user to do work. Imagine writing an essay on your phone!

3e) Explain what a computer network is and describe the network’s purpose.

A computer network is like a giant web that connects devices. It allows them to communicate with each other through processes called protocols. This network is made up of both hardware and software. Computer networks are helpful because they allow all the connected devices to share information and digital resources.

For an example of a computer network, think of a desktop computer, a server, and a printer, that are all connected:

You could pull up a file on the server to edit with your desktop computer and, once you’re finished, you could send it over to the printer to get a paper copy. This is only possible because all three of these devices are connected and can communicate with each other via a computer network!

4a) Explain what a program or software application or “app” is and how it is created.

A program, software application, or “app” is basically a set of instructions that are stored in a device’s memory. Apps are pretty much just programs that are downloaded and used on a mobile device. When users access the program or app, their device’s CPU reads the instructions and performs them. While following these instructions, the CPU may share data with the device’s RAM (short-term data storage), displays, sounds, and more.

Remember, the CPU is like a device’s ‘brain’ and the hardware is like its ‘body.’

Whatever the program or app was written to interact with or access, the CPU can communicate with. For example, when a user clicks on a gaming app, the CPU reads the instructions and tells the app to open to a menu, play sounds, display a logo, etc.

Explain How a Program, Software Application, or App is created.

Programs and apps are created through coding. Coding is a process that involves writing instructions using a specific computer language. There are many different types of computer languages, and each one is designed for a specific purpose.

The type of program, software application, or app that you can create depends heavily on what kind of computer language you’re writing with. For example, some languages are designed to create gaming apps like the one described above, while others are used to create databases. Common programming languages include Python, Java, C#, HTML, JavaScript, and SQL. 

4b) Name four software programs or mobile apps you or your family use, and explain how each one helps you.

I don’t know what programs and apps your family uses, so I decided to tell you about the ones that I personally use! Each one of these programs is helpful in its own way, and I’m sure your family uses at least one of them. Hopefully, you can learn from my descriptions and later discuss the apps used in your own family!

  • Mint: This app provides users with a snapshot of their financial health.
    • It also syncs budgets, banking accounts, bills, credit cards, and more. 
    • Without this app, I wouldn’t know when my bills are due or if I’m spending too much money. So, it’s super helpful!
  • Google Maps: This app provides directions in real-time to locations that you might not know how to reach by car.
    • It calculates how long a trip will take, how heavy traffic is in certain places, and how many miles it will be.
    • It also identifies nearby resources like gas stations and restaurants. 
    • PS: On my iPhone, I prefer using the Google Maps app over the Apple Maps one (it’s a lot more accurate!) 😉
  • Venmo: This app allows users to send or receive money.
    • The transactions don’t require sensitive banking or personal information, which protects users’ identities. 
  • Turbotax: This app provides simple instructions and explanations about how to file taxes.
    • It takes the confusion out of doing taxes and saves its users money since they won’t have to hire an accountant.
4c) Describe what malware is, and explain how to protect your digital devices and the information stored on them

Malware are dangerous types of programs that install and run on users’ devices without their knowledge or permission. These programs may collect sensitive information about users, such as passwords or banking information. They may also corrupt or delete files. Malware sends your information and device data to another party, who may have harmful intentions.

There are many different forms of malware that you’ll need to watch out for. The most common types of malware include:

  • Viruses: A program that maliciously modifies your other computer programs and replicates itself.
    • You can get computer viruses by downloading and opening sketchy files.
  • Worms: Worms are self-replicating programs that are spread through computer networks.
    • While not always harmful right away, worms can be used as vehicles to later change a computer’s programming, turning the worm into a virus.
  • Trojan Horses: Just like the legend of how the Greeks tricked the Trojans into bringing them within their city walls by sneaking inside a giant wooden gift horse, trojan horse malware is also very deceptive.
    • A trojan horse is basically a file or seemingly useful application that misleads you of its true intent and actually has a virus inside.
  • Spyware: Spyware is a type of software that monitors its user’s behavior without their knowledge.
    • This might be to steal their personal information or violate their privacy.

How to Protect Your Digital Devices And The Information Stored on Them

Users can protect their digital devices and the information stored on them by being careful and smart about what they interact with online. While that may sound difficult at first, here are helpful 7 internet safety tips that should stop almost all types of malware you’ll encounter:

  1. Never open attachments from email addresses that you don’t recognize, especially if they’re in your spam folder or look suspicious.
  2. If a sketchy, poorly made pop-up saying you’ve won a prize appears, don’t click on it.
  3. Keep your devices updated regularly, as these updates usually include the most recent security changes.
  4. Never install a program before making sure it’s coming from a verified, reputable source.
  5. Only input your financial information into sites where your connection is secure (look for the little lock in the corner of the URL, like with ScoutSmarts).
  6. Try to use different passwords for each of your accounts. That way, if there’s a security breach, the hacker won’t be able to access everything. (I use LastPass to manage my passwords!)
  7. Consider installing security programs that specifically scan for and block malware carriers.

By following the above tips, I’ve personally never had any really bad experiences with computer viruses or malware. However, I always make sure to back up my important files, and you should too. You never know when something unexpected could happen to your device, so it’s best to always be prepared with a file backup!

Congrats! You’ve Just Finished Part 1 of The Digital Technology Merit Badge!

Great work, we’ve already made it halfway through this entire badge! You definitely deserve a break at this point; go get some food and give yourself a huge pat on the back! 🙂

Also, if you’re interested in the difficulty rankings for every Eagle-required merit badge, you can check out my full guide here. PS: The article also links to my ultimate badge guides that’ll help you to answer your merit badge worksheets!

Once you’re ready to continue on to part 2 of the Digital Technology merit badge (Requirements 5-9) Click Here (in progress, join my newsletter for updates)!

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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